Friday, October 12, 2012

A Nutrient Rich Herbal Tea that Packs a Whammy

There's a common weed that might be in your backyard right now, and it's also a nutrient rich herb. This herb contains surprisingly high amounts of Vitamins A and C, and minerals such as potassium, manganese, and calcium, making for a power packed cup of tea that would have Granny running for another mugful, then maybe out the door and around the block for a little jog. And if you add this tea to your day, you'll be running alongside her.

So, what is this healthful tea? Glad you asked.

It's stinging nettle, and this garden charmer is usually considered a major (and painfully) pesky weed by most gardeners in the U.S. But nettles is more likely to find a home in the kitchens of Europe and Asia than the weed pile. While you can cook up a pot of fresh nettles and serve it with dinner, it's also fabulous dried and used as a tea. (You can actually eat it raw and I have seen it done without the person getting stung in the mouth, but it involved rolling the leaves inside out paired with tricky chewing, something I'm not quite nervy enough to try.)

Cooked nettles are somewhat like cooked spinach or other pot greens, and they're best gathered in the springtime. Drying the herb for tea provides you the spring goodness all year, and off season it's easily found in healthfood stores where it's very affordable in bulk.

You can prepare the tea by the quart, steeping five or six teaspoons of the dried herb in cold water. This cold infusion method keeps more of the constituents in tact, but you can also do a regular infusion method, steeping a teaspoon of the herb in a mug of hot water for 15 to 20 minutes. Either way, feel free to drink this healthy brew daily. Stinging nettles is definitely a nutrient rich herbal tea you don't want to miss out on.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How to Brew a Proper Cup of Herbal Tea for Medicinal Use

When I first began tinkering with herbal tea for medicinal use, I did what most people do: Zap the water in the microwave, dunk in a tea bag, and squeeze it out after two or three minutes. Then I'd do that other thing so many of us do: I'd wonder why herbs didn't work that well.

But I persisted because the subject was fascinating and didn't require a prescription, or a second prescription to get rid of the effects of the first. And I learned a few things about the correct way to brew the tea. When I followed those simple steps correctly, a funny thing happened: Herbs worked.

First, make sure your dried herbs are fresh. They should still have color. Fresh chamomile is pale white with bright yellow centers, for instance. And the herbs should be fragrant and smell much like the plant does when it's still alive and growing. If there's little to no fragrance and the color is dark brownish green, you might be looking at old herbs.

Also, make sure to get your herbs in bulk. They're much cheaper this way, and when they're not in tea bags, you can see what you're getting. Many times what starts off as an expensive box of tea is actually, upon dissection, a smidgen of dried plant dust hidden within a tea bag. I've also seen some old herb in those bags. That means very little result.

To prepare a mug of tea, heat the water to almost boiling. I like the stovetop as opposed to the microwave. (I could give a long explanation here, but then I'll get off track and forget what I was talking about. Where was I?) Put your dried herb into a tea ball or reusable unbleached muslin tea bag and plunk it in the mug. Pour in the water and cover the mug with a little plate or liddy thing to keep the steam in. This prevents any volatile oils from escaping.

Now steep for 20 to 30 minutes.

That sounds like forever. But for medicinal properties to be extracted, it takes a bit of patience. If you discover that the tea is just too strong for your liking, then you can back off a bit the next time you make it. But first give it a shot and see what you think of the outcome. I bet you'll be surprised at how different the results are, if you make your herbal teas like I used to.

This is a brief overall explanation, as you can see. Some teas don't need such a long steep, others are better prepared in cold water. If you'd like to sort all that out, you can check out my book Teas for Life: 101 Herbal Teas for Greater Health for more detail.

Just remember: While making a good and effective cup of herbal tea for medicinal use does require a bit more time than the usual dunk and squish, your body will thank you for the extra effort.